A port call by the command ship of the US Seventh Fleet which docked yesterday does not mean military relations with China have recovered, an admiral said. 'We're not there yet,' fleet commander Vice-Admiral Walter Doran said. He sought to dampen speculation Sino-US defence ties had normalised after Beijing severely limited them over the May bombing of its embassy in Belgrade. Admiral Doran's visit aboard the USS Blue Ridge, which docked at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, is the highest-level military contact since then. It is also the most significant navy ship to be allowed to enter since Beijing refused to allow US warships into the harbour for regular port calls in the wake of the bombing. 'The visit of the Blue Ridge and my visit to Hong Kong certainly does not signify the normalisation of the military-to-military relationship between the United States and China,' Admiral Doran said in an address to the Asia Society. 'What my visit here signifies is the return of Seventh Fleet ships, planes, units to Hong Kong and our interest in underlining Hong Kong as an international and open city.' Admiral Doran commands the US' largest forward-deployed fleet which operates with up to 60 ships in the Western Pacific and Japan and is based near Tokyo. In another sign ties have not fully normalised, the PLA garrison commander, Major-General Xiong Ziren, did not accept an invitation to a reception aboard the ship last night. A PLA navy captain attended instead. General Xiong's predecessor, Lieutenant-General Liu Zhenwu, boarded the Blue Ridge in 1997 when it became the first US warship to visit under Chinese rule. US sources said it was believed General Xiong was not in Hong Kong yesterday. Three senior PLA officers arrived for yesterday's reception in suits, while US officers wore uniforms. Addressing the reception, Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said: 'Do send back your aircraft carriers.' She was referring to the lack of bigger vessels visiting since the bombing. US officials, including deputy assistant secretary of defence Dr Kurt Campbell, who visited Beijing recently, have said they were ready for and looked forward to a normalisation of relations. 'They have indicated a certain willingness to do that also but we are not there yet,' the sources said. Washington was encouraged by Dr Campbell's visit and the PLA's role in search and rescue exercises with US forces and other participants in Hong Kong last week, Admiral Doran said. The navy's P-3 Orion aircraft which participated was the first to be allowed to land despite repeated requests since the bombing. Admiral Doran said the next step in normalising ties would be a resumption of regular defence talks but a date had not yet been set. He said ship visits encouraged transparency. On the PLA's transition from an inshore to blue-water navy, Admiral Doran said it was a natural evolution for the Chinese military which did not worry Washington.